Close to one in five inmates leaving Ontario jails are released into homelessness, a problem that has only increased over the past five years as communities across the province grapple with the escalating crises of housing affordability, mental health and addiction.
Anti-poverty advocates and experts say these data reflect a failure by the justice system to house some of the most vulnerable people in society. Instead, inmates are routinely released without even a plan to find a home, exacerbating underlying mental-health issues and leaving them more likely to reoffend.
“It’s a vicious cycle. It’s almost a trap,” said Tim Richter, executive director of the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness. “The loop between homelessness and prison is almost mutually reinforcing.”
Since 2016, the number of people in Ontario jails has decreased, and subsequently discharges from detention centres and correctional facilities have also gone down considerably, from 56,083 in 2016/17 to 32,067 in 2021/22, the most recent year for which data are available.
Yet during that same period, the number of inmates released into homelessness – recorded as having “no fixed address” – went up, from 4,928 to 5,541, according to data obtained by The Globe and Mail through a freedom of information request.